Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Apollo 18 (2011)

So, that was fun.

Okay, I have to admit that I like these kinds of movies, not sure why, but I like the idea of them. There's something about space or the sea... some kind of abandoned ship in one of those places that appeals to me in a visceral kind of way. I loved Pandorum, Ghost Ship, Sunshine, and Event Horizon... probably others too, but I can't remember all of them... or maybe I just did mention every last one I've ever seen. Who knows? My point is that Apollo 18 is similar to those movies without being the same kind of rehashed plot. In many ways this movie is equal parts Sunshine (let's use that as an example) and Paranormal Activity, and it makes a fairly fun movie.

This is a found footage film and I think it works well as that except in a few cases where I was confused about where the shots were actually coming from. Some of the wider shots left me confused. I would assume that there is some explanation as to where they came from: the rover or something, but I found it a bit mystifying at times.

I also found the movie, although it was fairly short, to be very slow-paced. Now, usually I like slow-paced films, but this one seemed to be much less about creating a mysterious atmosphere than creating any believable bonds to the characters... or even creating true horror. I suppose this should be classified as a horror movie, but... well, it isn't very scary, nor is it very suspenseful. You know right away what's going to happen. You know the plot before the movie even begins. It becomes heavy-handed and somewhat clumsy at telling its own story.

The plot and story are both strong here, but again, the heavy-handedness of what the filmmakers are trying to say undermines a lot of what could have made the story great. So, no, this isn't a great movie. It was a fun movie. It was a movie I enjoyed watching for the most part, but it will never be one of those great movies I hold onto throughout my entire life.

The characters are basically there to exist. They don't really matter. You can tell me that you love Nate or Ben or John and tomorrow I'll forget who those characters even were. They don't matter. Their personalities don't matter. They could have been named gruff commander who is going to go crazy, dashing and handsome young captain who will die at the end while thinking about his family, and guy who basically does nothing in the course of this movie and it would basically come down to the same thing. Or they could all be named Man and that's about as much characterizations as we get out of them. They are astronauts. They are cool people who are doing something awesome. Heroes, not villains. Well, that's what you get out of characters.

The setting is the mainstay of this movie. It's the freaking moon. Everybody wants to go to the moon and everybody was unhappy when the moon program was cancelled due to budget cuts and such. So, a horror movie based off of an unheard of mission to the moon with everybody dying horrible deaths?I think everybody loves hat premise. And it was executed well, not perfectly, but certainly predictably. Obviously the Soviets had to land somebody on the moon too, obviously they didn't return, obviously the American lander would get broken and they'd have to use the Soviet ship to escape, and obviously they would all die. Oh, and obviously there would be moon monsters because what fun is making any movie when you don't have moon monsters? If I ever make a movie I'm inserting moon monsters into it regardless of what genre the movie is. If it's a freaking romantic comedy there will be moon monsters. The movie will take place on the moon and it will be about moon monsters falling in love.

Okay, I'm being dumb, but I'm trying to make a point here. The moon monsters are dumb. The phrase moon monsters is not intimidating, it is not scary. Showing those moon monster spiders is basically undermining the entire premise of me trying to be afraid of something unknown. I see that they are moon monster spiders. What's there to be afraid of? Just spray some bug spray or something... whack 'em with a hammer, and you're good. I'm obviously trying to be a big jokester, but my point is valid. Showing the moon spiders just makes the monster a whole lot less scary. I was much more intrigued when the monster was a simple rock. The moment it started movie inside of old grizzled commander's helmet I found myself chuckling at the obvious CGI. It took me right out of the movie. I mean, it didn't happen often with the monsters, and for the most part it was handled pretty well, but it was a huge misstep and left me with a shattered perception of a moon movie without crazy moon monsters.

The moon shots were well done for the most part, and I really did like it when the young heroic astronaut was inside of the crater. That was incredibly well done, with the flashing light or whatever that was supposed to be. Although why he just didn't have a flashlight is beyond me. Is there some reason that flashlights don't work on the moon that I don't quite understand? Again, don't get me wrong, I thought the scene was well done, but a flashlight would have been superior for what they were doing unless moon flashlights don't exist, which I suppose is a valid reason for them not using one. I just have no idea myself, and it stuck in my mind as a question. Both crater scenes were well done. I liked how I literally could not tell what was going on in either scene and there was a big hectic feeling all around. I liked that. It was well paced and well done all around. If that had been the only time we see the little moon monsters, I would have been okay with it, but no... no, of course that's not the only time.

As for other elements of the movie... uh... when they're in the spacesuits, it's pretty cool. I mean, that had to be fun for the actors. The Soviet lander was a nice, if all too predictable, touch. I liked it when they notice the different footprints in the moon dust. That was neat and had the exact right tone for what was happening. Sometimes the acting was not the best, and there were certain "What the hell is going on?" moments from the actors that felt incredibly hammy. A lot of movies insist on using that line, and I suppose it might be used if we were in that situation in real life, but the delivery of the lines just did not do the line justice at all and came off as hammy all around. It's a nitpick, but I've seen that line used poorly way too often and I want to say that it's a real problem.

The radio sounds were also a nice touch, but they did get old after a while, kind of bogging down the movie, being a convenient and not readily explainable reason for the two mooned astronauts to be cut off from everybody else. I thought it was kind of silly towards the end of the movie even if early in the movie the communications disruptions were subtle and appropriate.

Oh, and I have to say that the government being full of awful people is always something I have to like. There's something about a bunch of bad men who are absolutely ruthless running the country that appeals to me so much even though I'd absolutely hate it. The government, in this movie, are absolute jerks (I want to use a harsher word than jerk by the way.) and I love every second of knowing that those careful jerks are probably right about their logic. I don't particularly think that the government is well portrayed in this movie if you want a sympathetic and namby-pamby (That's a term, right?) government, but if you want a ruthless, "We're sending you guys out there to see what's out there and also so that you probably all die alone in space." type of of government, that's the one you get in this movie. I love to hate them. It's fantastic.

Altogether, I did like this movie even if it was all over the place in terms of pacing, plotting, and quality. It was predictable, sure, but I, for one, would have been disappointed if certain elements weren't there. It was a fun movie and one that anybody who is a fan of these sorts of movies should try out. If you don't like found footage films or movies like Pandorum, Sunshine, or Event Horizon... I guess Solaris counts as well... then you should avoid it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Video Game Assessment: Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Mass Effect 2 is on a basic level The Dirty Dozen IN SPACE. And on an even more basic level, a huge variety of recruitment missions for a big damn suicide mission in the endgame. What more can I say about the story? It isn't complex or full of riddles or even a seriously important part of the game. Instead this game's focus is on characters, dialogue, and the beginning of a massive galactic conflict that leads directly into Mass Effect 3.

I tend to like the Mass Effect games. They're like Star Wars without lightsabers, with more aliens in leading parts, and no insipid prequels in sight. I think that the games are massively fun and enjoyable, and have a ton to offer despite the overdone cover-based gameplay. The gameplay here is not what you're playing this game for. It's definitely the characters and story instead. Well, that doesn't mean the gameplay is bad. In all honesty, they really streamlined it from the last game and all around it feels much better, even if it is simplified.

One of the BIG changes from the first game to the second, and one of my least favorite changes, as stupid as it might sound, is the amount of customization. This is also a big complaint that I have for the Dragon Age series as well. Seriously, why did both sequels take away fun aspects of the first game? I mean, no it wasn't the most fun thing in the world to navigate the TERRIBLE inventory system of the first Mass Effect, but it was kind of fun to put Wrex in a bright green costume, or to put Ashley in her best red armor. I mean, not that it's necessarily OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GREAT, it still feels kind of fun. It's party customization, and it works really well. I also liked the amount of guns that you could get in the first game, something that the second game cut down on. Another thing to rant about is why have a game where you can't even use some of the core gameplay mechanics (in this case certain guns) if you play a certain class? It's weird and I've never really liked that. I guess I want to be able to use all the weapons rather than being restricted to a pistol or something crappy like that. I mean, it wouldn't even change anything at all since most classes have extra stuff that make them better at certain types of combat. So, why limit it? I've never used an assault rifle in any of the Mass Effect games because I never play a soldier class. So, why even implement it in the game at all? I mean, I like the fact that other characters are customizable in what weapons and powers they use, and I like that I can have different powers depending on what class I choose... but why are some of the powers chosen so arbitrarily? Or maybe I just think it's arbitrary. This is the biggest issue I have with this game. I feel like it really cuts out the RPG elements of the game, which subsequently is one of the biggest complaints about this game and Dragon Age II. I will argue that Dragon Age II is worse in this regard though as there is ABSOLUTELY NO CUSTOMIZATION in terms of character clothing, except for your own character, which makes most of the loot you get in the game absolutely useless, especially if some are for mages and you're playing as a rogue. Or you get a Hawke specific sword, but can't use it because again, you can't use swords, you need to use daggers as a rogue. It's dumb, and really makes me wonder about some of the arguments that people make about BioWare really dumbing these games down.

Now, dumbing the games down is something important to me. I'm a big Obsidian Entertainment junkie, but Valve is a good example of this too. You should not dumb a game down, making it easier for a different audience to get into it. You appeal to your base first, then everybody else afterwards. It's as simple as that. Every time I play a BioWare game I expect KotOR, not a shooter with RPG elements or a hack-and-slash with romantic interests. I like Dragon Age II, but not because of the things that were taken away. I liked the writing, the story, the characters, and some bits of the plot, but I hated what they took away from Origins. One of my favorite parts in that game, and this is going to sound dumb, but I loved the descriptions to each weapon. It showed that there was a lot of love and care going into each weapon's description. If, when you first get to Ostagar, you take a sword from a messenger, you get a great little blurb about some knight fighting with a spoon because you STOLE HIS SWORD. I love that. It opens up the world and gives the whole world more immersion. And that's the big problem here. Again, I like Dragon Age II and I also like Mass Effect 2, but I also think that they've dumbed down RPG mechanics either because they want to appeal to a new audience... or because of pure laziness, and I hope it's not the latter. I'm not really a PC gamer, and I played all of these games on the Xbox, which is probably why I'm not being as harsh as many of them can be. I guess I just want there to be customization and being able to dress characters in different clothing if you so desire is kind of a big deal to me. Also weapons. I want more weapons that feel unique, either through description or just by finding them on the ground or something.

Crap, I've gone off topic. Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 2. All right. So, the game has very few weapons to it, probably no more than five of any weapon type, usually one of which is far superior to any of the other options if you're actually good at using the weapons at all. Also, no customization on the armor really, other than purely aesthetically. I mean, yes, it's kind of nice to be able to change colors around... or if you buy the DLC, you can make them wear sunglasses, kind of. Okay. Okay. I think I kind of understand, maybe? No. No, I don't. Why can't they get bonuses for new costumes? Or different stats or something? Oh... because stats were taken away. Oh. Oh no.

All in all, what I've been talking about are my biggest complaints. I know they've, as far as I've heard, fixed most of these issues for the upcoming Mass Effect 3, but the damage was already done here.

Now, after all that ranting, I have to admit that I do like the game. It has a compelling story, a lot of interesting things that can happen to your party, and... did I mention the party themselves? They are the main set-pieces of the game. There are up to... uh... 13, 14, or 15 (16 altogether, I think) unique party members in the game, although some are unique to DLC only, some are added by DLC to the main game itself, and some are optional. I guess I can talk about them all, although it will only make this review longer. I'll start with the first introduced and move on from that. The story follows these characters except at key story points, which involve Shepard looking for these aliens called Collectors collecting (har har) human colonies, and eventually bringing the fight straight to them. There, that's the story. Yes, some set-pieces are really fun and look fantastic, but they really only matter as much as OH HERE'S A STORY! LOOK AT IT!

So, we'll start with our fanservice of the hour. Miranda. Okay, skin-tight jumpsuit. Nicely rendered rear, nicely rendered boobage... well, I know why you're here, Miranda. I mean, yes, I guess she's kind of interesting, but the game itself undermines that interest by showing blatant shots of her rump. I mean, look game, I love video games, but I don't need pixelated babe to get me off, thank you very much. I'd much rather have no fanservice and giving her a sweater. And look, if you argue that it's her character, then I'd say why does the camera linger on her caboose? That has nothing to do with her character shaking that trunk in Shepard's face. She's turned to face Shepard. No, it's all about the camera focusing there to bring about a reaction in the fanbase. Wonderful.

Jacob. Stupid insipid characters are terrible. Stop making simple characters like this. He has no real personality and even though his loyalty sidequest is among the best in terms of story, he is just about the worst character I've ever seen in a video game. They dropped the ball on writing him. Period.

Then we have Wilson, who spoiler, dies in the very beginning.

All right, Mordin. I love Mordin. The first three characters are all human. Mordin is the first Salarian party member. He speaks really quickly without pronouns and while taking as few breaths as possible. He's a scientist as well, and well, he's kind of awesome. He has a good personality that fits him, and, in general, he works as a character all around. He is deep and engaging, and it's kind of cool to talk to him when you get the chance.

Garrus. Well, there's a spoiler, so there are going to more. I didn't love Garrus in the first game, and I don't love him amazingly in this one either. I mean, he's cool, and I use him a ton, but he says so little in the game itself at times I kind of forget about him. In general he reminds me of Shepard light... maybe even a secondary renegade Shepard.

Jack is kind of obviously a reference to space prison movies. I guess they're a genre nowadays. She (yes, she's a she) is supposed to be a very obviously emotionally stunted character who has gone through the worst life has to offer. It just... it doesn't work for me. It never has the weight I feel that it should. It's like the writers really tried to do something with her by telling her story, but it all just felt... paper-thin. Her entire story, which I guess works with a lot of people, just did not work for me. I mean, there's this feeling that there's way too much telling and not enough showing with her. Yes, she's obviously emotionally problematic, but her character only tells what's going on... there's never really that quiet scene where you just see  all the issues and just understand. Part of it is on the voice actress, but most of it is certainly on the writing. It didn't feel right to me. It didn't work well.

Grunt is the Krogan, and even though he's no Wrex, he is pretty awesome. I like him a lot. He grows up within the Normandy SR-2 and you get to see his development basically from a child into an adult. I love it. It works so well, in my opinion. And he really comes off as an interesting and deep character despite his single-mindedness. We get to SEE his aggression (unlike Jack) and get to experience his story along with him. There's not the shoehorning in of emotional baggage that never really come out in game proper. I hate when things are told to me, but not shown. It's such a lazy way of doing things. But Grunt works really well as the heavy type of character with a healthy dose of rage-insanity.

Now for DLC characters: Kasumi and Zaeed. Zaeed is a walking and talking Firefly reference, basically a gruff bounty hunter, who's in it for the money and the adventure rather than the good of what they're doing. He's absolutely great. A lot of his lines are really interesting and he grows on you as a character as long as you spend time with him. Easily one of the best written characters in the game. Kasumi is another great character, well-written and interesting, with a great story besides. She has the emotional baggage like Miranda, like Jack, but she's actually written well and it comes off in her character much stronger than the others. You get to see what's going on with her, rather than having it told to you by the character in question. This is how good writing works, and Kasumi is a great example of it. Kasumi is a Japanese thief, and she's cute as hell. Her story is almost heartbreaking, and in general I have to admit that I really like her.

Then there was Tali. Tali is yet another character from the last game. And yes, yes, yes... I'm basically a Tali guy. I think she was lovingly written and incredibly well-done. She seems, in my opinion, to be the only sensible love interest for males in the game, besides the girls from the last game, I suppose. She has one of the most well-done scenes in the entire game with her loyalty quest, and everything with her feels personal. She feels like a friend (or lover, or whatever) unlike some of the other characters that we've seen so far with the exceptions of Grunt, Mordin, Zaeed, and Kasumi. Oh boy, though... she really is a good character.

Anyway, moving on from my Tali-love, let's talk about Thane. Thane is the absolute... um... drell. Yes. He's the assassin of the group, and he really has deep characterizations. Again we see him, underneath the surface. We get to see what's underneath unlike some of the worse-written characters. The voice actor and the writer do a great job with Thane, who, in some ways, maybe even most ways, is the best companion character in the game. Well, arguably, at least.

Then there's Samara. Another fanservice asari. Wonderful. I love asari cleavage. Do you hear that dry sarcasm in my voice? DO YOU SEE IT OVER THE INTERNET!? BECAUSE I DO. Seriously, I can't stand this kind of fanservice and the kind of character that Samara is. I might dislike Jacob the most, but Samara is a close second. She's a dedicated knight, the kind of character I really like... but she's done in the most aggressive and stupid way possible. There's a reason why I...

...usually choose the next character over her. Morinth. Now, yes, Morinth is evil, she's very evil, but I like her so much more than her mother. Morinth is over-the-top evil. Yes, she might not have the depth of other characters, but at the same time she really does not disappoint. You get exactly what you ask for with her. Even if you have to betray and basically kill Samara to get Morinth in your party. Eh, stuff happens to insipid characters. Also, the scene where you get to choose between them is one of the best scenes in the game. I have to point that out. It surprised me the first time I saw it.

Okay, one more main character, and... well, I think it's my favorite character. I would like to introduce Legion. Yay! A geth party member who is basically fantastic in every way and has more personality than half of the rest of the party. I'm not going to rant about this character. I love him and think that he was well-done in every single way. His dialogue is one of the best in the game... by the way.

Then there are two other "companions" both of which pop up in DLCs. The first is Liara, our friendly asari from the first game. She's pretty cool all around and eventually becomes an information broker called the Shadow Broker. I did say there would be spoilers, right? Her character is interesting although possibly a little bland as well. But that was Liara in the last game too. I don't mind her, I just find her a middling sort of character. The antagonists of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC are much stronger characters in general.

And then there's the last character Dr. Amanda Kenson. I won't spoil her. You don't get her as a companion for long. You get to meet her in the Arrival DLC. It's pretty good, although not the best DLC. Arguably the Shadow Broker one or Overlord would be the best. I have a special liking for Overlord because of how it plays with your mind and preconceptions about the game itself.

The DLCs, in general, are okay. The three that I mentioned are by far the best of them, with most of the rest being gun packs or Firewalker, which is frankly not great.

The main story... or I guess the plot, or whatever... is pretty good in general. The game starts off with Shepard's death... with a fantastic sequence of the Normandy, the ship from the first game, getting wrecked and ruined. Yup. And then Shepard dies. And obviously gets brought back to life. I've never liked this whole idea of Shepard being the chosen one... but barring that it is a fun sequence. And the rest of everything is about unlucky moments when mechs around Shepard go insane, or dealing with the characters I listed, or dealing with the Collectors. And that's it.

I mean, the voice acting is mostly good barring some exceptions, but BioWare games always do good with that stuff. Some of the voice acting is among the best I've ever heard in a video game. The music is also fantastic and well done, with special mention going to Tali's theme and the main theme itself. A lot of them are really well done though, and I think it deserves mention.

Changing the overheating feature of weapons and guns to ammo (heat-sinks), I think is a good idea. I liked it more than constantly overheating weapons, but that might just be me.

As far as everything else, the last boss battle is fairly well done, and the game is actually decently well done in terms of difficulty... even if some sequences and scenes are nearly impossible on Insanity difficulty if you pick the "wrong" class, which I think is absolutely ridiculous and one of the reasons that I like Obsidian more... because at least you can play most of their games through with any build on your character.

I think... I think that's all I have to say about Mass Effect 2. I liked it for the most part despite my complaints. I think there are some missteps... especially in the fanservice department. I mean, come on. If you're going to do fanservice, make it with a character who actually has some depth. I hate to say this, but Isabela in Dragon Age II is a very good example of a fanservice character done with characterization and depth. Well, she's also not as blatantly fanservice as some of these in this game... or maybe it literally doesn't appear that way because she DOES HAVE DEPTH, even if she's PIXELATED SEXY... or whatever. My point is, I don't care about fanservice. What I care about are interesting characters done well. Again, mostly a good game, but with some missteps, arguably going in the wrong direction from the first game... although getting rid of the Mako was a great idea. Wow, let me tell you... And the probing minigame is a much better thing to do even if it takes away from the expansiveness of the game. And this game DOES NOT feel as expansive as the first one, kind of sadly, really.

This is a better game than the first one, but only barely, mostly through characters. My complaints still hold and I wish the next game really does address them. Anyway, it's well done mostly, and I do enjoy the game and the series despite my ranting. Well, there you go.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Now, this SOPA/PIPA issue has been around for a while. Obviously I'm against it because I'm about as Libertarian as a person can be, but any person with brains in their heads can see that these bills are about as wrong as anything could be. Special interest groups are pushing this. Yes, the protests certainly are fantastic today, but these issues won't just go away. One day is not going to stop all of this. Senators and Representatives just have too much power over the American people right now. They feel they have the right to impose laws on us that will push us back against a wall, taking away the rights we have had since the internet ripped itself into existence. Politicians no longer work for the people, but people are stupid. Every one of us is stupid. We rely on a broken system without having it fixed. We have to do something about this or this country will be broken irrevocably. It already is. Look at all the issues in the country right now. Look at how far we've fallen. We've become complacent unless something threatens us specifically. The problem is that every single legislation passed can be seen as problematic, taking our rights away little by little, putting our country into more and more debt by the day. How can any of you think that this is the right way to go about doing things? How can any of you think that it makes sense to work with a broken system?

I applaud the protests going on now. This is a big issue, but it isn't the only one. I don't want my rights taken away little by little until I can't even live the way I CHOOSE to live. None of you are stupid. Hell, if you are reading this, you're smart enough to understand the issues. We have a society that is breaking apart. This depression is becoming gradually worse. And yes, it's a depression, whether you believe that or not. The media doesn't want you to panic. They don't want people to believe that the times are rough (not unless it's in their own political interests), but what you need to understand is that times ARE VERY ROUGH right now. The world seems to be falling apart around us and politicians are not going to fix the problem, not unless they take their hands away from the problem. They can't help us because they have forgotten that what's best for us is to leave us alone. Why limit our freedoms? Why implement nonsensical laws? The answer is for them to control us. Obviously they want to control us. They want to work for their special interests. They want to make us little puppets, little pawns under their thumbs. Don't forget that. You think this SOPA/PIPA issue is simply going to go away? No, it won't because they feel that this is a problem that only they can do something about. Passing laws like this, limitations, regulations... it's only going to cause us to lose ourselves, lose our communities, our knowledge, our individuality.

They look at this and say it's to fight online piracy, but you don't think the company's distributing this stuff couldn't figure out a better way to fight it? I mean, come on. I'm sure there are ideas that could be happened upon in the private sector to protect all of this stuff. You don't need the government to be involved at all. Why should you? Why should our rights be sacrificed for the big corporations to keep the money they're losing to pirates? Yes, it's bad, but come on. Seriously? This is the answer? To go off and cut off the internet from its biggest strengths of free expression and community? Yes, of course it is to the government. They see us as stupid sheep... and maybe many of us are. Maybe a lot of us don't think, don't care, don't... don't want to use our minds for something more important than wasting our time, but for those of us that do think, remember that this isn't over. We have to fight this. We have to fight the politicians, telling them to screw off. We gave them their jobs, we can take them away... should take them all away, start fresh, without corruption, special interests, and the like.

But it won't happen. It won't happen because people cannot unite. We're asleep at the wheel here, only realizing that something is wrong when it MIGHT effect us adversely. What about all the bills that took freedoms away before? What about the years of not speaking up, not speaking out? We don't want to fight, as people, we simply want to live and be left to live, in freedom, in safety, and without intrusion. The problem is, in this world of tomorrow, all of those things are being compromised, little by little, until nothing is left but the ashes of a broken down populace. Look, of course I'm being melodramatic here, but how far am I hyperbolizing? Maybe not quite far enough. There has to be a unification, a bloc that can step up and show the government that we know better than they ever will. We are the people. We are the democracy, and we shouldn't be silenced, not by big corporations... not by people who claim to know more than we do. We need to make a stand and make it count.

Or we can just sit down, and complain later that we should have done something when we had the chance. We should have protested. We should have spoken up, but then we lost those freedoms, lost everything to the political machine. Or maybe we won't even notice, sitting in our chairs, not even realizing what a fantastic thing that we let ourselves lose. I've been vocal about this stuff. I hate intrusion. I hate politicians thinking they know better than me, and I hate big businesses and corporations and lobbyists thinking and knowing that they can influence decisions just because they have money and a name. It's unfair to the us that makes this country so strong every day. We are the backbone, the people ourselves, the ones who slave for jobs, slave for lives, and get thrown to the wind at every turn.

Remember this day, these protests. Don't turn away from this cause... or it will be lost. The bill will be “fixed,” and we'll lose our rights with raised hands and deadpan ayes on a floor in a building that is far removed from us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Insomnia: An Analysis (Also Solway Firth Space Man)

Well, I guess this will be a bit different. Do you see that picture up there? Do you know what that is? That's the Solway Firth Space Man picture. It's an interesting picture that was taken of a young girl, and in the background there appears to be a space man. I'm going to diagram where the space man is, just in case you're blind and can't see him or something. And if you're blind, why are you on the internet? Seriously, stop reading my blog and go get a cane or a woofdog or something because you can't read the internet and it's making me feel weird because I'm being weirdly antagonistic about this, and you won't be able to feel up my diagram of the Solway Firth Space Man.
Well, there he is. That... well, it certainly looks to me to be something kind of odd. I guess it could be a space man... or some kind of inflatable blow up doll. What makes this even stranger is that the boy's father, who took the picture, claimed that there were no space men behind the boy. So, yeah... pretty odd, wouldn't you say?

I'm not one for conspiracy theories or believing some weird and crazy crud about stuff that has much easier explanations, but I love this kind of stuff. it's so fascinating to find something that either could be a legitimate mystery or one of the weirdest, most random hoaxes of all time. I mean, I love stories like this. There are a lot of them, certainly. Hell, I might even talk about some, although my sources may not be the most accurate, which I apologize about in advance if I do more of these. This one I did some pretty simple research on and kind of know the story from memory because I liked it so much.

Hell, I just wanted to use the picture for my preface to my insomnia rant, but I guess that's as good a place to write about as any. I guess I'm going to get a little personal with you readers. I'm going to tell about something personal to me and hopefully one or two of you might understand what the hell I'm talking about.

I suffer from insomnia. Now, insomnia is usually a symptom of something else, sometimes depression, boredom, stress, or being overworked, but I tend to find that my insomnia is not a symptom at all. I have been to doctors about this, and most have told me very simply that I don't require as much sleep as others do. My brain is wired differently. Okay. It's rational. I'm a biology major. I know my medical science decently well. Everybody's brain is wired differently even if most of the chemicals are the same... but... how could mine get messed up this badly? I mean, yeah, there are some people out there who I've heard research about, saying that they sleep an hour a night or some incredibly low number like that, and are the HAPPIEST PEOPLE in the world. Now, let me tell you something... lack of sleep does not make you happy. I'm rarely tired, but actually happy that I can't sleep? No. Yes, I might get more done. I might accomplish more than your average person who sleeps six to eight hours a night, but the lack of company and the loneliness certainly makes up for any time that I gain by not sleeping.

And I call doctors out here. Sleeping pills are terrible things that should only be used under the worst cases where a person can't sleep and needs to be able to sleep. I like doctors. I believe in doctors, but sleep is a strange thing. It is not well understood in the same way that most areas of the brain, although possibly mapped, are not quite understood either. Sleep is a bit of an enigma and no real argument has come forth by why sleep is even needed. Besides for rest but that argument is almost tautological wouldn't you say?

I guess my point here is that I'm the only person I know who sleeps rarely and suffers so chronically from the little to no sleep I receive almost every night. I don't have people I can go and start hanging out with and talking to who are also not sleeping. I can't spend time talking with my girlfriend or best friend who love their sleep. I'm mostly alone, sometimes writing, sometimes reading, sometimes doing nothing at all but watching a movie, playing a video game, or just simply trying to sleep. But the sleep won't come.

I sleep, on average somewhere between two to five hours a night. That's a running average and sometimes it's much less. For the last month I've been sleeping on average about an hour or two a day, if that. Pair that with fairly horrid nightmares because REM sleep comes that much easier on little to no sleep, it causes a fairly unenjoyable experience in general. Now, don't get me wrong, maybe there are some very screwed up people out there who take joy in the fact that they can be alone all night and day and sleep half as much, or a third as much as other people and still function and everything... maybe they even find comfort in the fact that they are so awesome about this stuff! But they're wrong. Sleep is something that is needed for the body to retain information, for the mind to find a functional way to shut itself down for a while, and for some many other needed processes. And yet, insomnia remains.

Most of the people I know who have suffered from it, tend to gain weight because they don't do anything and they eat a ton. Depression will do that to you. I work out when I can't sleep and don't tend to eat more than I would otherwise, which can be good or bad depending on exactly what I mean by that. I do try to do things, and, yes, I do like having a bit more time in my day to get things done, but am I happy I cannot find the same joy in sleep that others can? Am I happy that the loneliness only seems to get worse as I get older? Am I happy that while a person only thinks they're tired, I've touched the face of exhaustion by sleeping less than anybody I've ever known, maybe even most of the people I've ever heard of? I can't say that it makes me proud, or happy, or anything but tired in the end.

Insomnia, is some ways, is a curse, even while others would say that it is a gift. Try it some day and see how you feel. Three days without sleep and start counting. Five days. Seven. Ten. It breaks you down, makes you lose. Two hours a night and you're always tired. One and you can barely function. Five and you simply want more that you cannot find.

So, that's what I think about insomnia. I've had it my entire life, even as a freaking baby. I never slept, never really needed to, but always wanted to. It's tough, dealing with all of that, and I can sympathize with anybody who has the same issues. I'm writing this at 5:40AM after literally not sleeping for almost three days straight. So, if I seem bitter or simply done with the insomnia, you know why.

Sleep well, I guess, good readers, because if you can, take that as a gift, and if you can't, hopefully you can find a way.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Video Game Assessment: Heavy Rain (2010)

After my experience with the disappointing Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit everywhere that isn't where I live) I was dubious about this game. Doubt barely explains the menagerie of emotions I could feel when I looked at the box, wishing and hoping that it could end in a better way then the aliens and crap that ruined my Indigo Prophecy experience. And I've heard everything from reviewers on this one, ranging anywhere from this game being brilliant to this game being the worst thing that has ever existed.

Now, taking into account that around the same time this game came out, so also did two other games that I've also reviewed that have very similar ideas and themes to them. Deadly Premonition and Alan Wake were the two others that I'm talking about, and if you don't remember or don't know what I thought about those two games, go check out my reviews to get my full thoughts. But in hurried terms, I loved Deadly Premonition, seeing that game as one of the quirkiest games ever, and also one of the best games I have ever played. And Alan Wake, to me, was a derivative mess that did almost nothing that I was happy about besides some of the more meta things and all of maybe the endgame level, which I thought was clever.

Well, now on to Heavy Rain. This game has an FBI agent, just like the other two, but unlike the other two games that took a lot of inspiration from Twin Peaks (as seen heavily in both), Stephen King (in Alan Wake), and crap (see also Alan Wake), Heavy Rain feels very heavily more original. It's not, in my opinion as great or as surprising as Deadly Premonition, even though this game did surprise me.

It's supposed to play out like a mystery, and the story and characters are incredibly compelling, but... and there are some buts here... in the end I can sum this whole game up in a collection of words: Fan-service, Se7en, Indigo Prophecy, Beautiful, Uncanny Valley, and Interactive Story. The other things about the game are great, the music, the voice acting mostly, the sounds of the game, the realism, the characters, and the plot itself (for the most part). But I want to get into those words and what they mean for this game.

This is pretty awful. It's wholly pretty painful to watch. I don't usually go out of my way to play video games full of nakedness and boobs. I mean, I can't even think of that many that have boobs smacking me in the face. Yes, Indigo Prophecy has the pixelated breasts, and the Dragon Age  games get pretty close with the desire demons, and, of course, the God of War games. I guess there are others games that show them boobs too, but I haven't played them. I guess my point is that not too many games I've played have a sexy dance for basically a mini-game... or a strip-tease, or showering. I mean, seriously? It's a little weird and makes me feel like a neck-bearded creepy shut in. I mean, I'm not that creepy, I think...It's just weird and basically involves the same female character throughout the entire game. There's a lot of fan-service here. I guess they know their audience? Well, they would except there's man-butt here too! I'm being kind of silly here, but it's all very strange. I don't really care that much, it just feels sleazy, and I have to say, I actually like the sleaze. It makes this game feel a certain way. It gives it a heavy-handed, dark feeling to it, and I love it all the way around.

Well, besides being one of my favorite movies, Heavy Rain seems to take some things out of Se7en. Maybe I'm wrong, but both things just have such similar feelings to one another. I mean, it's the themes, the ideas, hell, even the characters somewhat. I don't think Heavy Rain is anywhere near as dark as Se7en, but I think it does have some very similar elements.

Indigo Prophecy
Heavy Rain is basically a spiritual successor to Indigo Prophecy. It shows except for the supernatural elements, I think, and the crazy endgame crap that was terrible for Indigo Prophecy. I say this, and then I see the extras for the game, showing how much more supernatural and meta it could have been before they decided to scrap it and I see the similarities even more fully. And I love those similarities. Even though I wasn't the biggest fan of the pretentious crapfest that was that game, I feel that Heavy Rain learned from its Indigo Prophecy origins and made a better and more compelling game because of it.

This is a game that looks so good that it's impossible to say it doesn't. The facial models, although sometimes appearing in the next phrase in our list here, are generally very good. The eyes look real, and that's superb. The environments, again, look kind of sleazy, kind of skeevy, and kind of greasy all at the same time. Yes, there is the problem of most of these next generation games, in the fact that there is too much gleam at times, but for the most part this whole game takes place in the realm of the dark visuals and depressing atmosphere. If this were a movie I would absolute love this. Movie like this are few and far between and I've never seen one that I didn't like. The whole game takes on a kind of grim look to it and it's fantastic.

Uncanny Valley
The character's facial models sometimes look like they're wearing skin masks over their faces rather than actually having faces. Oh man, it's true especially when they open their mouths. I have to point it out because wow, it can look really strange and really off and it comes up fairly often, especially with Scott, the Private Investigator, and Madison, the chick. Simply showing their teeth makes their entire face look like a mask about to split off revealing another face underneath. It's really strange and a little disturbing in a way that shouldn't be disturbing at all. Some faces are better than others, but the teeth always seem a little off, and it's jarring when the eyes and the rest of the faces are really spot on. The Mass Effect games have much of the same issues, and I wonder if it's something inherent in the system rather than a flaw of this game in particular.

Interactive Story
This should probably be the tagline of this game, if it isn't already. It's not so much that you play the game as you push buttons and decide the game. You decide, mostly, what the characters say, do, and decide. It's fun, in a way, maybe not at first. Hell, at first the game is almost kind of boring, then it's incredibly depressing, then it gets hardcore and awesome. It does take a while for it to get going, but once it is going, it's gone, a true hit for the ages. And it's really good, better than I would have expected in almost every way.  I'm not the biggest fan of this type of game or this type of gameplay, but I do really love the idea of it. I love how the story unfolds and how the characters interact and interplay with one another. It's an interesting premise and it works, in my opinion, as this mysterious story about a serial killer proceeds.

Now, the game does, in my opinion, fall apart towards the end even with the fantastic middle and slow beginning. I don't like the ending and I don't like who turns out to be the Origami Killer. It feels stupid, and it really doesn't work. I played through this game twice. It's not very long in general. And I didn't like the ending in either of my playthroughs. The killer is not well foreshadowed, and, in general, it is impossible to guess the killer's identity from the information given almost until the reveal itself. So stupid. And when it is revealed, it is done well, certainly, but it feels unbelievable with what you know about the game and the characters.

Anyway, this review is all over the place, but my ultimate opinion is that this game is different, very story and character based. It has good voice acting, although I doubt any of the actors are actually American as their accents are all different kinds of strange. The music is good. The look is fantastic, and I really enjoyed it for the most part, barring the very end and the slow beginning. The trials themselves that the father, Ethan, has to go through are visceral and fantastic, as are the follow-up meetings with Madison and her little side-adventures, as well as the adventures of Scott and Norman and what they go through. Anyway, I recommend this for people who like stories and characters over gameplay and take it as it is, a movie in video game format. I liked it, and that's about all I can say about it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Video Game Assessment: Dungeon Siege III (2011)

Yet another Obsidian directed video game comes out, and yet again I became incredibly excited for it. In general I've loved all of Obsidian Entertainment's games. That's true. I've never played Neverwinter Nights 2, but I have played all the rest. Two of their games are among my favorites of all time in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Fallout: New Vegas, so Dungeon Siege III had quite some shoes to fill. Now, I'm not going to say that this is the best put together game in the world, and I'm not going to blindly like it without taking the time to really have an in depth look at it, so I played through the whole game. I completed it completely with one character. And this is my assessment of the game.

Altogether, this game is my least favorite of the Obsidian Entertainment name, but that by no means makes it bad. Two of the games are among my favorite ones of all time, which is quite a feat, one I've never played, and I liked Alpha Protocol quite a bit. To my Burn Notice addled mind, Alpha Protocol worked in so many ways despite the obvious cuts and unfinished ideas.

The first thing that I have to mention is that I played single player. I have the feeling the game would be better to play with someone else. So, I'm putting that out there. If it is more fun, or works better with someone else playing it with me, I'll put out another review saying it, but as of now, this is my impression of the game.

The game altogether does seem well put together. It has a finished feeling that half of Obsidian's games that I've played don't really have. It doesn't feel rushed or pushed out the door, which both are always good things. The characters are decent, with one that outshines the rest, but I'll get to that. The music is good, reminiscent of the Fable games. Hell, most of the game is eerily reminiscent to the Fable series. And I like the Fable games too, although I do think that this one has much more to offer. The story is there, simple as it might be. The characters are strongly written, and the combat is mostly very fun.

There are negatives though. The gameplay never really became old for me...but it could have if the game were longer. Dungeon Siege III is not a very long game. It took me somewhere around twenty hours to finish the entire game. That's short for an RPG even if it is a dungeon crawling, hack-and-slash, action RPG. So, the shortness of the game certainly stood out to me. The RPG elements were decent though, and the decision were interesting and difficult at times, with Obsidian's quality writing apparent in almost every line.

The game starts off slowly, deliberately, and does eventually hit a good climax. The story is strong, despite everything, and I found it interesting all the way through despite its single-mindedness. The characters are mostly... well, I did not find all of the player characters (and companions) to be ridiculously interesting. I played as Lucas and he was neat, kind of the obvious lead character sort of person. The hero with a sword on the box cover, so yeah... But both of the female characters seemed a little less interesting. Maybe it was their voice acting, especially the Archon (kind of a fire elemental ancient thing) Anjali was particularly notable for, in my opinion, not having the best voice acting available. Then again, maybe that's what they meant to do, but to me it came off as not great. Katarina, the other female, was a little more interesting, but I never used her because she constantly died. Her AI seemed to be less intelligent than the other two companions. I didn't have any real complaints about her besides that. Well, besides that she's very obvious fanservice... Reinhart though, the last companion I acquired, was my main man throughout the time I had him in my party. I really liked him and his snarky intelligent nonsense rambling. If I play the game again, I'm playing as him.

The gameplay was surprisingly good, really visceral at times, and somewhat challenging at times as well. I would get frustrated with it at times because I just want to be good at video games, but it took me a while to master the gameplay, and I kind of like that. By the end of the game I could defeat anything, but there was a learning curve and it took about half of the game to maybe two-thirds of the game to really figure out what I had to do in terms of combat. I thought it worked well and I was really pleasantly surprised with it. Dungeon crawling games built on sidequests are not exactly my favorite style of game, but this one stood out to me as having only good sidequests, no filler, and moving along well despite no real fast travel system.

The thing I really need to praise this game on are the visuals. In this day of grand visual quality coming from video games, the visuals of this one really stood out. I loved, absolutely loved, the Causeways, the roads between the world that exist in a ruined world. They appealed to me so much and I thought they were awesome. But the different towns are also incredibly well put together, as are the automatons that are featured fairly heavily and some of the enemies. The game does have a style to it, and I really liked it. It made me smile at times besides the fact that I never smile, so that was cool.

Altogether, this was a good game with a ton of potential. I think most of that potential was realized, but admittedly other parts seemed to be a bit of a slap in the face. The game is short, but at the end of the game they show enemies that they could have put in the game for me to face, like dragons or other wars, and I just wanted to play more and fight dragons. Why show me dragons when I can't fight the dragons? It's teasing me needlessly. So, the game loses some points because I hate being teased.

Out of the last three games I've played in Uncharted 3, LotR: War in the North, and Dungeon Siege III, this is probably my least favorite of the three, but the one that I see with the most potential even in regards to the Uncharted series, which while a powerhouse of a series, quality all the way around, does not have that fantasy element that one can play with and tweak all over the place. I just think that there is room for improvements in this game and this series and I hope that Square Enix will be intelligent enough to put the next game in this franchise in the hands of Obsidian yet again.

Anyway, I did enjoy the game. It was fairly fun, kind of short, but not terrible certainly. So, I'm going to recommend it. Wow, I was not expecting to like this game, I'm not going to lie. And three games in a row, all games that I've given mostly positive reviews for. This is bad. I need to rip something apart soon. I think it's time to watch a bad movie next...